CIVIL liberties group Big Brother Watch has claimed several schools across south-east London have CCTV cameras in either bathrooms or changing rooms.
Big Brother Watch used Freedom of Information requests to collect data about CCTV cameras at more than 2,000 secondary schools and academies across the country.
It found that more than 200 had surveillance cameras in bathrooms and changing rooms and that, on average, there was one camera for every 38 pupils.
The group claimed Sedgehill School, in Sedgehill Road, Lewisham, had four cameras in bathrooms or changing rooms; Cleeve Park School, in Bexley Lane, Sidcup, had two; Plumstead Manor/Negus School in Old Mill Road, Plumstead, had one; and Woolwich Polytechnic School for Boys, in Hutchins Road, Thamesmead, simply confirmed the presence of cameras.
Lewisham was one of 24 boroughs with more than the average number of CCTV cameras, with 65 cameras among four schools that responded to Big Brother Watch’s requests.
The Eltham Foundation School – now Harris Academy Greenwich - had one of the highest concentrations of cameras, with one for every nine pupils.
News Shopper attempted to contact each school concerned for a comment, but only Sedgehill responded.
Sedgehill School’s headteacher Ken MacKenzie emphatically denied that the school had CCTV cameras in changing rooms or toilets.
He said: “When we moved into our new, state-of-the-art building, it was fitted out with CCTV in line with every other new school build across the country.
“It is a complete distortion for Big Brother Watch to equate this with ‘student surveillance’. CCTV reassures students and parents—footage is not monitored or saved and CCTV protects the building from outside vandalism, theft and intruders.
“Having the ability to check CCTV footage of the school playground, corridors and other community spaces is one of the reasons why incidents of misbehaviour are so rare at Sedgehill.
Obviously, the teacher presence in classrooms means that CCTV footage would never be required in classrooms.”
Big Brother Watch said it was highlighting a sensitive issue concerning not just who is viewing the footage but also that young people are growing up into an environment where surveillance is the norm.
It is calling for the Home Office’s code of practice for CCTV to be extended to all public bodies, a government-commissioned independent review of the use of CCTV in schools and for a surveillance camera commissioner to have the power to enforce a code of practice.
Director of Big Brother Watch Nick Pickles said: “This research raises serious questions about the privacy of schoolchildren across Britain, with some schools having one camera for every five pupils and hundreds of schools using cameras in toilets and changing rooms.
“The full extent of school surveillance is far higher than we had expected and will come as a shock to many parents.
“Schools need to come clean about why they are using these cameras and what is happening to the footage. Local authorities also need to be doing far more to reign in excessive surveillance in their areas and ensuring resources are not being diverted from more effective alternatives.
“The Home Office’s proposed regulation of CCTV will not apply to schools and the new commissioner will have absolutely no powers to do anything. Parents will be right to say that such a woefully weak system is not good enough.”